Fat bikes were originally designed for winter riding on Alaska’s Iditarod Trail. But those cartoonish four-inch-wide tires are tailor-made for soft sand, something I discovered last fall on an expedition to North Carolina’s Outer Banks. I’m new to fat biking, so I feel fortunate that my companion was Shawn Spencer, founder of the U.S. Open Fat Bike Beach Championships in Wrightsville Beach, North Carolina, and the owner of a local bike shop, who has spent years exploring the state’s barrier islands on two wheels.
Millions flock to the Outer Banks every summer, but fall is when it gets really good: zero crowds, mild weather, plentiful waves, and lots of fish to catch. For our trip, we outfitted two bikes — one with a surfboard rack, the other with a custom flatbed utility trailer to haul camping gear and fishing tackle. We began at the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge and spent three leisurely days biking, beachcombing, surfing, and fishing our way down the island.
Every morning and evening, between surfing and making miles, we’d surf cast for red drum, speckled trout, and bluefish. Shawn landed this 19-inch puppy drum, a juvenile red drum, at sunset. We filleted it on the beach, gave it a panko-breadcrumb crust, and fried it in olive oil on our camp stove. We ate it with some couscous on the side — it was one of the finest meals we had.
Our trip coincided with a southeasterly swell and offshore winds, ideal conditions for Hatteras Island. Water temperatures were in the high 50s, while waves ranged from chest-high to overhead and packed plenty of power. Best of all, in three days, we didn’t see another soul.
Sleeping in the Sand
Summertime here means heat and mosquitoes, but fall is perfect camping weather. I rolled out my summer-weight sleeping bag under more stars than I’ve ever seen and was lulled to sleep by the soothing sound of crashing surf.
Most restaurants here close for the off-season, so we cooked most of our meals. Whenever we met locals, though, we’d ask for restaurant recommendations. Those led us to a few choice eateries, such as Fattys, where we chowed down on biscuits and gravy.
Our fat bikes’ nearly five-inch-wide knobby tires make it easy to roll through sand. At low tide on hard-packed sand with a tailwind, the riding was fast and fun. But in deep sand with headwinds, it was a thigh-burning crawl. Shawn and I took turns hauling our 150-pound gear trailer (OK, OK, we overpacked), and at times it required both of us pulling in tandem to make any progress at all.